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The creator of Populous opened up about his experiences as an indie developer and his thoughts on how to best develop and launch your own indie game during a recent talk at GDC 2014.

Alex Wawro, Contributor

March 18, 2014

4 Min Read

“Together, we must create something that defines the next generation.” said Molyneux. “Nature abhors a vacuum, and I would say that, at the moment, we have one fucking huge vacuum.” It was a punchy way to open a talk titled “From Indie to AAA to Indie,” and Molyneux leaned into characteristically bombastic language while describing his experiences as an indie developer. But first, Molyneux decided to share a slide showcasing the many desks he’s worked upon, from a shanty desk in the corner of a garage to a series of proper office desks at Bullfrog, EA, Lionhead, Microsoft. “I actually thought I’d talk about desks for a moment," he said, as a way to better explain his reasons for “going indie” instead of staying in the corporate world. See, the desks in the picture share a common trait -- they're all covered with half-finished work. To hear Molyneux tell it, he was driven to start 22cans out of an innate need to “create,” one that bubbled up while he was working at Microsoft a few years ago. “When I was in the corporate world, I was safe,” said Molyneux. “There was predictability to my life, contentment, security. We all crave those things in our life, but for design and innovation, they are fucking death.” Molyneux spoke out against what he perceives to be greedy monetization models that are handicapping game design. Companies like Supercell and Mojang have developed games that appeal to a broad audience, rapidly bolstering the ranks of potential players that developers can target, and as a response many companies are creating games that prioritize revenue potential over player satisfaction.

Rediscovering the path of the indie

Molyneux went on to share his six-step plan for making Godus, 22 cans’ upcoming god game for PC and mobile devices. He recommended that developers experiment with technology — he points to 22cans’ experimental launch of mobile tap receptacle Curiousity: What’s Inside the Cube, which was built by 5 people using Unity, as an example. “If you put a million people together, about 5,000 of them will turn into nightmare bullies who will destroy the culture you’re trying to create,” said Molyneux. He claims that by removing player communication from Curiousity, 22cans learned how to better create a healthy community. Community-building is the second stone on the path of Molyneux’ suggested development path. It’s a common refrain, of course — Molyneux claims that by using Kickstarter to fund Godus and then releasing early versions of the game to that small community of backers, the team at 22cans was better empowered to quickly respond to player feedback and update the game. From there, Molyneux recommends developers move to Steam’s Early Access service. He claims that Godus netted another million installs through Early Access, which brought in more money and players to keep development going. “We realized that if we continued updating on a weekly basis, we would not end up with a game at the end of it,” said Molyneux. “We’d just end up reacting all the time.” 22cans stopped updating, took time to redesign some of the core systems of Godus, and later released one large major update for the game. It’s an interesting suggestion in light of the fact that many of the developers I’ve spoken to during GDC 2014 are enthusiastic about developing their games in public. To them, the pressure of having to respond to player feedback and release weekly builds of a game in development via Early Access or some sort of beta program forces them to “focus on the fun” and ensure their game remains entertaining throughout the development process. Molyneux seems to recommend that indie developers take time to evaluate and iterate upon their design without worrying about keeping their fans engaged. The next step is to do a limited release of your game to gauge reactions. For Godus, that means an April launch across Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, the Philippines and New Zealand, with a proper launch to follow. To Molyneux, the value of being an independent developer lies in being able to do things like muck around with odd funding models or release schedules without having to answer to a broader authority. “Indie should be about embracing the things that larger corporations can’t possibly attempt, which are insane approaches to established genres,” said Molyneux. “I love being indie again.”

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